Nitish Kumar, master of swing politics, was political showstopper of 2022

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By Manish Anand

New Delhi, December 31: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is now making efforts to avoid coming across Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He skipped the Ganga Council meeting. This is a throwback to the initial years of the Modi government when Kumar would stay away from events which would be graced by Modi.

By snapping ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party, Kumar brought a yawning reminder to his way of politics – finding alibi to stay as Chief Minister by conveniently changing the alliance partner. Now, Kumar eagerly is throwing his weight behind former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

The Bihar Chief Minister faced an existential threat from the BJP after the 2020 state Assembly elections. The ruling Janata Dal (United) was pushed to the third position, and Kumar was gifted the post of the Chief Minister by the BJP as a mark of generosity for having contested the elections in his leadership. On the campaign trail of the 2020 state polls, people threw slippers at Kumar, as he faced hostile crowd at a number of places.

In his third term, Kumar remains a pale shadow of his image that was seen in the first term during 2005-10 when Bihar had come out of ‘Jungle Raj’, with the police after one and a half decades rediscovering self-esteem and the state saw road construction activities. In his third term, those who have migrated from Bihar for livelihoods heave a sigh of relief that they left the state after seeing the viral videos of shopkeepers shot point blank and bank robberies becoming the new normal. It’s full circle for Kumar.

In 2005, he had bagged the popular mandate for ‘Sushashan (good governance)’. In 2022, Kumar is battling the curse of a breakdown of the law and order. The illicit liquor syndicate has by all accounts pulled the rug from under his feet of all the claims of the good governance. The Saran hooch tragedy arguably exposed the bankruptcy of the administration in the state, as the victims first tried to hide that they had consumed liquor for fear of the police action, and the government also went in an overdrive to cover up the true number of the casualties.

Now, Kumar is without a narrative. He has been dwarfed by the bloating of the persona of his alliance partner and Deputy Chief Minister Tejaswi Yadav, while the BJP is reworking the social base to nibble away Kumar’s core vote base of the extremely backward castes (EBCs). This leaves Kumar with no option but to piggyback ride Congress to stay relevant in the national politics. His hope is certainly that alliance with Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) would bring the Muslim votes, which will offset the losses of his core constituencies. But the bigger challenge may be staring at him, as the women in Bihar could be leaving his camp after witnessing the abuse of the liquor ban law by the syndicate of the politicians, the police, local goons and contractors.

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